June 4: Asian Tour TV Commentator Richard Kaufman has been jet-setting across Europe in recent weeks and has managed to catch up with some of Asia’s top golfers. Read all about it in his latest blog for asiantour.com
By Richard Kaufman
My feet have hardly touched the ground over the last two months but there’s no complaint.
After watching Lee Westwood just make it over the line in the CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters and after commentating on the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open for Sky Sports in the United Kingdom, I have spent the last two weeks at two iconic courses, working for the European Tour radio commentary team.
Wentworth is the home of the European Tour. It is the venue for the very first golf event I covered, the 1996 PGA Championship. I remember turning up, tape recorder in hand and standing by the 18th green and within 10 minutes of getting there, I noticed a recognisable figure.
It was only Nick Faldo, or Sir Nick as he now likes to be known. With great trepidation I approached one of the UK’s iconic golfers. I hit record on my tape recorder and about three minutes flew past. I wish I had that interview on my archive.
Nineteen years later, I was back at Wentworth which has changed a fair bit since my first outing. Set in the leafy suburbs of outer London, now the big name was Rory, not Nick.
But by the time, I got to tread the fairways on Saturday, Rory McIlroy was heading home.
The group I was to follow was Thongchai Jaidee and Emilian Grillo, the penultimate group of the day. You have no idea the excitement I still feel treading the fairways behind and in front of the world’s best players with 20-odd thousand fans outside the ropes… and this was a day in which Thongchai showed he belongs amongst the game’s current elite.
I had a quick word with him and his caddy before he went out while he was on the practice putting green. My last words to him were “I want to be commentating on a few birdies from you”.
It’s a big few months for Anirban, as like Thongchai, he’s in the mix to make the Presidents Cup International Team. I didn’t get to speak to him but he must be living the dream. Well, he didn’t let me down. Birdie at 1, birdie at 2, eagle at 4… and suddenly, Asia’s favourite golfer was out in front.
As good a start as it was, what impressed most about Thongchai over the next three hours or so was the way he plotted his way round. The West course wasn’t playing easy and there were times he found a spot of bother.
But this was when the Thai player showed his maturity, never risking a double bogey, knowing when to take his punishment. I interviewed him after the round and his attitude was glaring.
He really wanted to win but it was case of if it’s not his day, then so be it. As it turned out Sunday belonged to another Asian golfer.
Ahead of the final round, I interviewed a few players on the range. Amongst them was Kiradech Aphibarnrat. It was the first chance I had to congratulate him on his win in Shenzen. But this Sunday was no casual warm up on the range. Kiradech was working hard with his coach on some issues with his swing. It seemed like they worked although two late bogeys denied him a top 20 finish.
In that final round, I was out with the last group and it was my first time up close watching Byeonghun An, known to everyone as Benny. I was jaw-droppingly impressed. If I am honest, I thought An would wilt under the last day pressure of a big tournament.
He didn’t flinch and by the time he hit his 5 iron at the par 5 12th hole from 199 yards that was just one roll away from an albatross, it was game over. That came seconds after a huge roar went up from up ahead as Chris Wood bagged himself a car for a hole-in-one. The last few holes were a procession, a stunning performance. Benny Boy is the real deal.
So from Wentworth, a short flight across the water to Belfast and an hour’s drive to Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. Once again but even more so, McIlroy was in the spotlight.
After all, he grew up not far away, often comes to practise at the course and was the tournament host. But even the world’s best can struggle and Rory was heading for another weekend off.
If he hadn’t read the script, my guest for our preview show had. Jonathan Moore, the American who has spent much of his time over the last few years on the Asian Tour came and sat with me for an hour on Wednesday to look ahead to the tournament.
This was the course where Jonathan had holed an eagle winning putt at the 2007 Walker Cup to see off McIlroy and co. Eight years on, in the first group out, what does Jonathan do? He finds himself another eagle!
Unfortunately that was as good as it got for the likeable American but he heads back home to his wife Clare and his new born baby girl who is just over a week old. Congratulations all round.
Given the cold, windy, wet weather conditions, I was pretty happy with my role for the week as the presenter. In the comfort of my commentary box, I had the pleasure of various players coming for a chat.
One was Scott Hend, who had brought along his wife and twin children to the Irish coast. Royal County Down reminds of a line in one of Taylor Swift’s recent hits… “Darling I’m a nightmare dressed as a daydream”!! This is as beautiful a beast as you could imagine. Stunning views, tough conditions on a tough course. And the players struggled. Scott amusingly said how he had so many layers on, he found it hard to swing!
Rory wasn’t the only multiple winner of 2015 who missed the cut. Unfortunately Anirban Lahiri struggled in the tough conditions.
It’s a big few months for Anirban, as like Thongchai, he’s in the mix to make the Presidents Cup International Team. I didn’t get to speak to him but he must be living the dream. Big tournaments in front of huge crowds.
But it takes some adjustment too. Flying from America to Europe and back again, on courses he hasn’t seen or played on before. I am positive Anirban will adjust but it may take time to click again.
As for me… well, I have Wimbledon and The Open at St Andrews among the places I have to travel to. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!